The Starter Fell Off
by Robb White
(Excerpted from Messing Around In Boats)
(click here for more information about MAIB)

That damned Murphy is still breathing down the back of my neck. My wife and I had had responsibility for a whole bunch of children for almost the whole month of July and it wasn't half bad. You know she taught the youngest children possible for a whole career as a school teacher and the last 10 years or so she had "pre school." That's four-year-old kids who have graduated from various day care situations. All those poor women who supervise day care want to do is to do the time and draw the check so these children, though excellent raw material, are mighty raw. Jane can have them walking in line and acting polite before the first week is over.

Her main move is to catch the small, fit-throwing, miscreant under the armpits and raise him (or is 50/50) to eye level and say, "Do I look like your mother? Is my hair blonde and fluffy? Do I wiggle my head when I talk? I am bigger than you and I know what you need to do so you will have to do it." I took a little poetic license with the details but that's about what it was like. Now she has retired.

Anyway, all the various rigamaroles of school are fixing to get started again without her and the children (we have six grandchildren, aged nine to two) are getting organized, so we went to the coast all by ourselves for the first time in a long time. Actually, it was sort of lonesome. Artifacts of the children were all over the place...sea shells to grind into sand underfoot, cursed Barbie doll cooking pots to step on, poor old Shrek hanging by the neck from the east deck, and juice cups fermenting under the sofa, which brings up an observation.

There are three kinds of children's juice. One is the real thing, apple juice flavored in various ways, and then the next which is just sugar water with artificial flavoring. The last is "special juice," which is just water and artificial flavoring and some kind of artificial sugar. A childproof juice cup which will not spill (a wonderful invention) acts like it has an airlock and will ferment up a most wonderfully effervescent wine under the sofa in just two or three weeks, but it won't work with "special juice."

We started driving about safe daylight (I do not like to hit deer with a car) and moseyed on down in time to open up the house about 9:30. It was, I believe, the first calm trip over we have ever had with the Rescue Minor. It was just plain flat calm and I let her rip. Of course I still have the little 9/8 (re pitched from 9/6) weedless propeller on there and I estimate that she rips about 16 knots, but here we went.

There was a lot of grass floating in windrows on the surface both from the storms of this amazing (blew a full 20-lb. propane tank over on the bayside porch) spring and early summer and from all these shrimp boats scouring the grass beds for a few bugs to feed self indulgent, high maintenance women. I just took "weedless" at its word and ran right through them. Last summer, I was running the 10-l/2"/10" old WW II stormboat motor, Mickey Mouse eared propeller on there and had to back down every time I crossed a weed but this prop just walked on through them.
Of course it doesn't back down like the other prop did but you can't have everything... besides, I don't do much backing up with a boat. I treat it like an airplane and if I don't hit it right the first time, I make another pass. I know I need about a 10-l/2"/8" LH, but I sure wish I could find a weedless one. One of my sons is haunting the E-bay for me.

Anyway, we rolled on in and unloaded our little load and opened up the house and, even though the water was yellow stained from the tannin out of the rivers so that I knew the fish would mostly be gone somewhere else, I knew a little place where I thought they might be taking refuge so I scurried around as best I could. We got the cast net and rigged the water jug (only a fool...) and waded out and got in the boat. The Rescue Minor is most accommodating that way. The sides are so low that it is easy to get one hip up on the rail and swing on in with not a hint of indignity. I would rather take a little spray any day than make a spectacle of myself...but...

Jane pulled the anchor and I mashed the button and the starter just whirred. The wind was blowing us offshore.

"What you want to do, anchor back again?" she asked.

"Naw, dammit, Jane," I replied "I'll just snatch this engine box off of here and fix this immediately," but when I snatched the engine box off I found out that the starter had fell off. It was not a failure of bolts or any predictable thing at all but just that Murphy had been at work. What it was was that the damned 3/16" (or whatever that is in metric) thick plate that Kubota had put on the end of this engine to hold the starter had fatigued off at the bolt holes and the starter had fallen off and was lying completely out of connection with the flywheel. Jane noticed that and dropped the anchor. I tried to hold the starter up against the ring gear by hand but it didn't work. Jane began to pole back in.

I quickly made a fish plate out of a piece of one of those foot actuated tire pumps we had used to inflate the rubber bladder style well pump tanks that we used for a little while over here. Because I smelled the breath of Murphy, I made a spare. Thejackleg fishplate worked fine and we went east as far as possible but the mullet were too scarce to find. Fortunately my sister had left us a package of frozen hot dogs left over from Coast House Week. What joy.

I am beginning to enjoy the cat and mouse game with this damned Murphy. I already put some real fuel filters on the engine and a bonafide manufactured raw water strainer big enough to do the job on the exhaust water pump in anticipation of his antics, but I would have never suspected that he would fatigue the starter plate. I'll be interested to see if he can bite this one I just finished. It is built of the same steel that they make cultivator plows out of and is twice as thick as the original. It is not that I expect complete immunity from Murphy's law because of my imaginative use of my intuition. Hell, I know things will go wrong no matter what. I believe I can fix them though.

It didn't take anything but a file and a hacksaw and one drill bit (I have one of those old two-speed breastplate style hand drills which will run rings around any electric job short of a Bridgeport mill for drilling steel) to make the fishplate to temporarily affix the starter back on the Kubota. Nope, I am not afraid of old Murphy. Let the conflict be joined. There is one irksome thing to it, though. After we got back to the shop, I was putting the flywheel and new starter plate and all back on the stern of the engine when my son showed up for work. "What you doing, now?" he needed to know.

"Damned starter metal fatigued off but I got it put back on there right now," I bragged. "I have some other improvements in mind that ought to finally make this sombitch reliable," I continued.

"What's that?" he asked, "an outboard motor well?"

An interesting aside: Atkin specified a 10"x12" wheel to push this boat to the designed 17.5 statute mph at 2,000 rpm. My belt drive reduction changes the 3,600 rpm of the Kubota to 2,700 at the propeller. I believe he was right. His last tunnel boat was the remarkable 22' Shoals Runner which also only draws 6". He specifies a 9"x8" at 3,000rpm off of an Atomic Four to do the same 17.5 statute. Shoals Runner is not all that much bigger than Rescue Minor and again, I think he was right. I get 16 nautical knots off the weedless 9"x8" at 2,700 which is right in line with what he

I believe I can turn a 10-1/2"x8" on a weedless propeller and still get Alkin's 17.5 statute and maybe a little more gas mileage than I have now. With the 10-1/2x10, the boat will run way faster than Atkin said it ought to do and it is easy to tell that the amazing dynamics of the hull are set up not to go that fast. He repeatedly says not to overpower the boat. He also says, "Shipmates, do not completely spoil the professional character of the design by adding useless curves and sweeps of little, if any, value to the performance and purpose of the boat. Follow the plans and the intent of the designer and make a shipshape little craft." Dang.